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“Steadfast in Peril”: Titanic’s Post Office

"Steadfast in Peril": Titanic's Mail Room

Titanic’s “R.M.S.” designation meant “Royal Mail Steamer.”

The White Star Line, unremarkably, was under contract with the British government to efficiently and expediently transit mail.

And Titanic did in fact carry mail.

3,364 bags of it, to be precise. 

These thousands of sacks, containing multiple millions of pieces of mail, arrived on board at all three port destinations reached.

Most mail bags embarked at Southampton and Cherbourg, with 1,758 at the former port and 1,412 at the latter. A comparatively small amount of 194 followed at Queenstown, before Titanic turned toward the open sea.

Receiving and sorting this mail by journey’s end was the sole responsibility of only five mail clerks. 

Two of these men, James Williamson and John Richard Jago Smith, reported from the ranks of the Royal Mail.

Three American clerks—Oscar Woody, John March, and William Gwinn—joined them from their employ within the United States Postal Service.

Maritime postal clerks were esteemed, to say the least.

These men were elite, with most having been recruited from the Railway Mail Service and Foreign Mail Section after extended service. Such clerks have been noted to sort an average of 60,000 pieces of mail per day with minimal error.

And the five clerks on board Titanic were no exception to this rule of excellence.

Titanic’s postal quarters were split between two deck levels: the Post Office on G Deck, and the Sorting Mail Room on Orlop situated directly beneath it. They were located forward on the starboard side, within the fourth watertight compartment.

Titanic's mail facilities were by all accounts more polished--and far more generous--than any that the postal clerks had previously experienced. 

On most vessels, the mail sorting room was distant from the hold that stored the still-bagged mail, and it was typically constricted and dingy.

Titanic, on the other hand, provided such spacious accommodation. And it boasted an infinitely efficient design: the two rooms were “stacked” one over the other, with a wide companionway connecting them for easy access.

The expansive post office had racks and cubbies for envelopes. Additionally, there was a broad sorting table and even a latticework gate that allowed the clerks to separate registered mail from the rest.

The sleeping quarters originally assigned to Titanic's postal clerks were situated among steerage cabins.

The Postal Museum in London possesses letters from the ship’s inspection on April 9th, the day before her maiden voyage. Therein, the writer(s) take umbrage with conditions of the clerks’ accommodations among Third-Class passengers--and in derogatory terms.

"The [sleeping] Cabins are situated among a block of Third Class cabins, and it is stated the occupants of these latter, who are mostly low class Continentals, keep up noisy conversation sometimes throughout the silent hours and even indulge at times in singing and instrumental music…if their [id est, the mail clerks] work during the day is to be performed efficiently it is essential that they should enjoy a decent sleep at night."

Consequently, the mail clerks were swiftly given alternate, more peaceful accommodations.

They were also reassigned a private dining room on an upper deck--a saloon they shared with the two Marconi operators.

From the moment the Titanic set sail, the five postal clerks would have been at work sorting through the literal thousands of bags of mail in the hold: categorizing all parcels and post according to their intended destinations. 

Additionally, the First- and Second-Class Reading and Writing Rooms had postal boxes stationed outside their doors for passenger use.

The clerks, therefore, may have been alternately tasked with retrieving any such mail—and certainly worked to sort all of that, too.

The goal was to have all mail successfully dispatched at the so-called “quarantine station” in New York Bay, where all incoming ships had to tarry for health inspections.

Therefore, the mail would have disembarked even before the ship’s passengers.

At the time of the iceberg strike, the five men were in their private dining area celebrating the imminent birthday of American postal clerk Oscar Woody.

He would be turning 41 years old the next day, on April 15th.

Upon feeling the collision, the five mail clerks immediately made their way to the post office on G Deck.

Mail on board a ship was considered seriously precious cargo, and the clerks were duty- and honor-bound to safeguard it at all costs. 

And so the men set to bundling and transferring all the mail they could manage into sacks and closing them up for transport to the upper decks.

Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall was sent down to the mail room by Captain Smith.

At the American Senate Inquiry, Boxhall retold his story of meeting the postal clerks. 

Looking down into the open companion way that connected the post office where they stood to the mail hold directly below them, Boxhall stated he saw full-up mail bags floating by.

[Senator Fletcher] 3682. Did you do so?
- I was proceeding down, but I met the carpenter. 

3683. What did you say to him?
- I said, "The captain wants you to sound the ship." He said, "The ship is making water," and he went on the bridge to the captain, and I thought I would go down forward again and investigate; and then I met a mail clerk, a man named Smith, and he asked where the captain was. I said, "He is on the bridge." He said, "The mail hold is full" or "filling rapidly." I said, "Well, you go and report it to the captain and I will go down and see," and I proceeded right down into the mail room.

3684. What did you find there?
- I went down as far as the sorting room deck and found mail clerks down there working.

3685. Doing what?
- Taking letters out of the racks, they seemed to me to be doing.

3686. Taking letters out of the racks and putting them into pouches?
- I could not see what they were putting them in.

3687. You could not see what disposition they were making of them?
- I looked through an open door and saw these men working at the racks, and directly beneath me was the mail hold, and the water seemed to be then within 2 feet of the deck we were standing on.

3688. What did you do in that situation?
- (continuing): And bags of mail floating about. I went right on the bridge again and reported to the captain what I had seen.

In a contemporary report, Officer Boxhall reportedly recounted his time in the mail room with further detail.

According to Boxhall, the clerks continued their work even as the post office began to flood not five minutes later.

They began hauling the heavy sacks--at least 100 lbs each, one under each arm--moving waist-deep through the frigid seawater.

Over and over again.

"When he got down to E deck, where the mailroom was located, he says he found it awash. Gwinn was there in his nightclothes, having rushed down from his room two decks above. Three other clerks were also there and all were bundling registered mail in sacks. It is estimated that its value was $800,000.

Boxhall says that the four men loaded themselves with heavy sacks of mail and stumbled on decks. at that time the boats were being launched."

Eventually, the struggling mail clerks appealed to the stewards for aid, and bedroom steward Alfred Theissinger obliged.

Alfred later recalled the following.

"I urged them to leave their work. They shook their heads and continued at their work. It might have been an inrush of water later that cut off their escape, or it may have been the explosion. I saw them no more."

All in all, Titanic’s postal clerks salvaged approximately 200 bags of mail from the post office on G Deck—but in the end, none were saved.

Tragically, nor were they.

All five men—Woody, Smith, Williamson, March, and Gwinn—died that night.

Two of their bodies were retrieved from the sea by the MacKay-Bennett: John March, and Oscar Woody.

The United States Postmaster General stated the following in a recommendation to the Postal Committee of the House of Representatives.

"The bravery exhibited by these men," [Postmaster General] Hitchcock said, "in their efforts to safeguard under such trying conditions the valuable mail intrusted [sic] to them should be a source of pride to the entire Postal Service, and deserves some marked expression of appreciation from the Government."

In Britain, a memorial was dedicated in Southampton: it reads “Steadfast in Peril.”

In 1999, a documentary revealed that the mailroom was accessible via the front cargo hatch. 

Inside the post office on G Deck, the underwater robot--called Robin--found the mail sorting table, overturned and slowly rotting. Nearby, the latticework fence that segregated registered mail from the rest was open.

Then Robin descended further into the mail room on Orlop deck.

There, the submersible encountered canvas bags, grown over with sea life, and still full of mail.

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“I Think It Is True That They Can Smell Danger”: Titanic’s Rats

"I Think It Is True That They Can Smell Danger": Titanic's Rats

When Thomas Ranger, a fireman on Titanic, arrived in Washington DC for the American Senate Inquiry, he had experienced the luxury of hotel lodgings in Washington, D.C.

When Thomas arrived back home in Britain, however, and was asked to testify before the British Board of Trade, he slept multiple nights outside on the bank of the Thames.

Another bedless man amidst “benches and tramps," Thomas Ranger stated he “prefered to walk than sleep” at the Sailors' Home.

All because of vermin.

Ranger and other surviving crew, on standby to be called before the Board, had been advised to stay at the Sailors’ Home in London, which had offered wayward seafarers interim accommodations between voyages since the 1800s. 

In May of 1912, however, the rooms in the Sailors’ Home were overly full—to the point that makeshift quarters were put out in the yard.

Meanwhile, construction to the building was ongoing, with bricklayers. The Titanic survivors were assigned to the vicinity of the remodeling efforts.

And Thomas Ranger could not bear to sleep there because the construction had disturbed and displaced an unspecified quantity of rats.

It’s no revelation that rats are—and have been—everywhere.

Even on a grand, new liner’s maiden voyage.

Yes, Titanic indeed had a rat population.

Rats have congregated on ships for so long and with such regularity that they are believed to have spread worldwide alongside human, thanks to our human Age of Conquest when ships dominated the open seas.

It’s reasonable to hypothesize that rats would have boarded the Titanic much like they have any other vessel in history: by running up unguarded mooring lines, as stowaways within waiting cargo, and even by taking up residence within the walls during construction in the shipyard.

Interestingly, around the time of the British Inquiry into the Titanic disaster, a law had recently been enacted that mandated the use of rat-guards on mooring lines, upon penalty of a five-pound fine.

But rats are cleverer than that.

Oftentimes, rats were so plentiful aboard that firemen working the boilers had a particular method of killing shipboard rats on-sight: by scooping the offending rats up with their shovels and flinging them into the fiery maw of the furnace.

For this reason, many ships had at least one cat on board.

In the case of Titanic, this rumored mouser was named Jenny: a newly adopted stray about to birth a litter.

According to Violet Jessop, Jenny the Ship's Cat was tended to primarily by a scullion named Joseph 'Big Joe' Mulholland.

The Sunday Independent reported on Joe's own account on the anniversary of the sinking, in 1962.

"There was something about that ship I did not like and I was glad to lift my old bag and bid goodbye...

Big Joe is still fond of cats and perhaps he has a reason. He recalls that on his way down to the Titanic before she set sail from Belfast with bands playing and crowds cheering, he took pity on a stray cat which was about to have kittens. He brought the cat aboard and put her in a wooden box down in the stokehold.

At Southampton, when he was ruminating whether to take on the job of store-keeper on the trip or sign off, another seaman called him over and said: 'Look Big Joe. There's your cat taking its kittens down the gang-plank.'

Joe said, 'that settled it. I went and got my bag and that's the last I saw of the Titanic.'"

Citation from "The Irish Aboard Titanic" by Senan Molony, 2000.

As the paper reported: "When his cat walked off, so did Joe."

And so Titanic's left on her maiden voyage mouser-less.

There is no official record of how many rats were on Titanic.

But eyewitness accounts attest to at least a half-dozen.

Fireman Jack Podesta gave an interview to the periodical ‘Southern Evening Echo’ in 1968, in which he reported having seen rats behaving oddly down in the boiler rooms on Saturday April 13th—the day before the iceberg strike.

"On this very morning, my chum and I had just gone across firing our boilers and we were standing against a watertight door—just talking—when all of a sudden, on looking through the forward end on [Titanic’s] starboard side, we saw about six or maybe seven rats running toward us. They passed by our feet; in fact, we both kicked out at them and they ran after somewhere. 

They must have come from the bow end, about where the crash came later. We did not take much notice at the time because we see rats on most ships, but I think it is true that they can smell danger."

But it wasn’t just crew that sighted rats on board.

There are fleeting mentions that children in third-class chased the occasional rat.

And third-class passenger Kathy Gilnagh also told Titanic historian Walter Lord that on the night of April 14th, she had seen a rat.

Shortly before collision, there was a large party in the common area of steerage.

And Kathy Gilnagh told Walter Lord that, at some point during the frivolity, a rat scurried across the room--presumably dashing across the makeshift dance floor. According to Kathy, the girls shrieked and may have even cried, but a few boys gave chase.

Kathy did not elaborate about whether those boys managed to catch that particular rat.

But the party reportedly continued on.

Even during the collision with the iceberg.


Molony, Senan. "The Irish Aboard Titanic." Wolfhound Press, 2000.

Lord, Walter. "A Night to Remember."

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“The Captain’s Tiger”: James Arthur Paintin

"The Captain's Tiger": James Arthur Paintin

James Arthur Paintin was a tiger.

That is, he was the sole steward to attend to no lesser man than Titanic's captain, E.J. Smith.

James went by his middle name of Arthur, and he was 29 years old in April of 1912.

He was also a newlywed, having married Alice Bunce only five months prior, in November of 1911. They had courted for approximately four years prior to their marriage.

According to the account of a family member, Arthur Paintin intended for the Titanic to be his final stint at sea, because Alice had become pregnant. The couple reportedly hoped to purchase a hotel.

Arthur boarded the RMS Titanic as a personal steward to the captain, and was therefore a member of the Victualing Crew. Old nautical terminology refers to Arthur’s particular role as “the Captain’s Tiger.”

The origin of this unofficial but quite compelling title seems to be something of a mystery.

Arthur had entered into employment with the White Star Line in 1907, and by 1912, he had already served as Captain Smith’s Tiger on both the Adriatic and Titanic’s elder sister Olympic.

It is unclear if Arthur had acted in the capacity of a steward for a significant amount of time prior to his time with Captain Smith, because while on board Titanic, he wrote that he had joined a “stewards club” the previous August. He did note that benefits did not begin in that club until the first anniversary of his membership.

So Arthur was thusly intrigued by the opportunity to join what was essentially a rotary club called the "Hearts of Oak". He expressed this interest to his father.

When Arthur signed onto Titanic in Southampton on April 4th, he had a cold, although it was just beginning to improve.

“My cold is still pretty bad,” he wrote in a letter to his parents while on board, “but nothing like it was last week.” 

And he wasn’t exactly inspired by his accommodations, but he endeavored to be positive in spite of it.

"Bai jove [sic] what a fine ship this is, much better than the Olympic as far as passengers are concerned, but my room is nothing near so nice, no daylight, electric light on all day, but I suppose it's no use grumbling."

Citation courtesy of "Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage," by Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth, and Sheila Jemima. 1994.

As the Captain’s Tiger, Arthur was in essence a personal valet. And it would certainly seem that Captain Smith had a distinct appreciation for Arthur's excellent services, as Titanic's maiden voyage was at least their third voyage together.

Arthur would have been responsible for Captain Smith’s functional needs within his quarters, like his laundering and boots, and with bringing him necessities like messages and meals as needed.

It is possible that Arthur accompanied Captain Smith to public meals, in order to attend to his needs. But where and when the Tiger himself ate, is not known.

Stewardess Violet Jessop observed that, at least on Olympic, all manners of stewards ate hurriedly and without much respite, whenever their schedules would allow it.

 "[Stewards ate] standing in any available corner of a greasy pantry, amid steamy smells and nauseating, grease-strewn decks, eaten in the quickest possible time in order to get away."

Citation courtesy of "Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop," edited by John Maxtone-Graham. 1997.

There was a lounge on board Titanic assigned exclusively for the use of personal maids and valets of passengers. But it it is unknown if this lounge likewise would have been available and appropriate for the Captain's Tiger.

To date, Arthur Paintin’s movements throughout Titanic's voyage are entirely unconfirmed. There appears to be no record.

Acting as the Captain’s Tiger was a role of some significance—which is why Arthur’s absence from eyewitness accounts is sometimes noted by Titanic enthusiasts as peculiar. But then again, it is not in the general purview of a personal steward to be noticeable.

Only Frederick Dent Ray, a surviving Saloon Steward, has thus far been noted as having witnessed James Arthur Paintin on board--specifically, in the final moments of the sinking.

Frederick testified as follows on the ninth day of the American Inquiry, stating that Arthur had last been seen alongside Captain Smith on Titanic's bridge.

Senator SMITH.
Did he [Captain E.J. Smith] have a personal waiter or steward of his own?

Mr. RAY.
Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH.
Who was he?

Mr. RAY.
A man named Phainten [James Arthur Paintin], I think it was; I am almost sure.

Senator SMITH.
Did he survive?

Mr. RAY.
No, sir. He was last seen on the bridge, standing by the captain.

Just like E.J. Smith, the Captain's Tiger did not survive the sinking of the Titanic.

The body of James Arthur Paintin, if recovered, was never identified.

Back home, Alice Paintin was widowed after less than six months of marriage. And three months after Titanic foundered, she gave birth to her lost husband's son.

She named the baby James Arthur Paintin.


Hyslop, Donald, Alastair Forsyth, and Sheila Jemima. "Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage." Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997.

Jessop, Violet. "Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters." Annotated by John Maxtone-Graham. Sheridan House, Inc., 1997.

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“A Ship Full of Flowers”: Sensory Titanic

"A Ship Full of Flowers": Sensory Titanic

When passengers embarked on the RMS Titanic on April 10, 1912, in Southampton, they legitimately could smell the fresh paint.

And by many accounts, it was pretty awful.

Much like anywhere else—and despite the impressions of austerity invariably imparted by black-and-white photographs—Titanic was a world of scents. Some were pleasant, most were reportedly overpowering.

And all collaborated in a perfume at once chemical, decadent, and grim.

According to multiple firsthand accounts, Titanic reeked of fresh paint and varnish. 

The exterior was painted, of course, with the iconic red portion of the hull protected with a so-called anti-fouling medium made by Suter, Hartman & Rahtjens.

But the rooms and corridors, newly painted a pristine and untouched swan feather white, are what inspired passenger complaints.

Lillian Asplund, a steerage passenger who was six years old when she boarded Titanic, later recalled, "I remember not liking the smell of fresh paint."

Meanwhile, Second-class passenger Kate Buss wrote in a letter home, "The only thing I object to is new paint so far."

Third-class passenger Jane von Tongerloo was so displeased with the smell, recalled her daughter, that she left the cabin door ajar just to get a modicum of fresh air.

The combination of oil-based paint and linseed oil was a heady aroma under the best of circumstances, but could prove particularly difficult to overcome, when ventilation was primarily achieved via portholes. Opening these, of course, subjected the room to the fickle April chill.

The smell of paint even sickened some passengers, causing symptoms such as head pain.

The White Star Line reportedly made attempts to mask the chemical odors with an absolute excess of floral arrangements.

White Star flooded both suites and various public spaces with bouquets--to such a degree that one passenger later described Titanic as "a ship full of flowers."

The plentitude of flowers on board Titanic were all provided by a single nursery: F.G. Bealing & Son of Southampton.

The horticultural florist firm had begun supplying the White Star Line when the company arrived on the scene in Southampton in 1907. It was a connection achieved via Bealings's existing relationship with Oakley & Watling, White Star Line's exclusive fruit supplier.

In the evening hours of April 9th, Mr. Frank Bealing, his son, and his foreman Bill Geapin loaded all the flowers, palms, and potted plants into mule-drawn carts, and pulled up alongside the mammoth liner in its quay.

The men set down all the flowers on a tarp in one of Titanic's main foyers, and set to work distributing them about the ship.

Decorative plants were staged partly at the direction of White Star staff and partly per the Bealings's tastes, although they likely would have attempted to mimic the placements they'd done on Titanic' elder sister Olympic.

Fresh-cut flowers, meanehile, were stored in the Titanic's G-Deck storage room labeled "Passenger Fruits & Flowers."

It is also rumored that Bealing buttonhole carnations were handed out to the First-Class passengers on sailing day, and many likely found their ways down into the water below. A local boy who went to see Titanic off recalled that "all the people on deck were waving and throwing flowers down, and they were all going into the sea."

There are varying reports of the substance of floral bouquets upon First-Class dining tables for each meal.

Perhaps each table was alternately arranged with a unique bouquet, suggesting a theme; perhaps the variations in their retellings are simply mistakes of memory.

Lady Duff-Gordon wrote of her dinner table in the A La Carte restaurant on April 14th, "We had a big vase of beautiful daffodils on the table, which were fresh as though they had just been picked."

Meanwhile, Mahala Douglas recalled that while attending the dinner party for Captain Smith on the at very same evening that those tables were adorned with bouquets of pink roses and white daisies.

And Lily May Futrelle recalled with a flourish that her dinner table boasted a "great bunch" of American Beauty roses.

In addition to all the flowers already on board, a number of passengers received “Bon Voyage” flower baskets from acquaintances—among them, First-Class passenger Ida Straus.

"You cannot imagine how pleased I was to find your exquisite basket of flowers in our sitting room on the steamer. The roses and carnations are all so beautiful in color and so fresh as though they had just been cut."

Citation courtesy of "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. 2012.

Lady Duff-Gordon also boarded with a basketful of flowers: lilies of the valley--her signature bloom--gifted to her on the train platform in Paris as she departed for the port of Cherbourg, by the salon girls in her employ.

Floral arrangements within First-Class suites and cabins reportedly consisted of carnations, and were changed daily.

This routine apparently included a rotation of flower vases in the bathrooms, as Lady Duff-Gordon recounted in her survivor account.

"Just then, a steward knocked. 'Sorry to alarm you, madame, but Captain's orders are that all passengers must put on lifebelts.'

Before we followed him out of the cabin, as I looked round it for the last time, a vase of flowers on the washstand slid off and fell with a crash to the floor."

It should be noted, however, that botanical fumes in First-Class cabins were not exclusively due to zealous floral placement.

They also emanated from bath products supplied by the White Star Line.

Titanic, much like any hotel, also provided complimentary toiletries to its guests.

In particular, White Star provided “Vinolia Otto Toilet Soap” exclusively to its esteemed First-Class clientele on all of its vessels.

The soap was produced by the Vinolia Company Limited, an English company that existed as early as 1894.

Vinolia Otto was advertised as the “standard of Toilet Luxury and comfort at sea… perfect for sensitive skins and delicate complexions… and for regular Toilet use there is no soap more delightful.”

Vinolia likewise claimed its product was “just the soap to counteract the effect of the salt sea upon the skin.”

It reportedly had strong scents of roses and lemon, leading to reasonable assumption that the soap was named after its source botanical component: rose oil, which is more elegantly referred to as “an attar of roses” or “Rose Otto”.

Speaking of roses: perfumes were of course in use in 1912, and likely would have also contributed to Titanic's olfactory atmosphere.

And although determining which branded perfumes may have been on board Titanic is speculative at best, enthusiasts have made some informed guesswork based upon the popularity of various perfumes in the spring of 1912.

Two such perfumes were by Jacques Guerlain: called Jicky, and L’Heure Bleu.

The former was made up of vanilla and lavender with a secondary citrus essence, while the latter left a powdery, dusky impression due to spicy aniseed and violet notes. A stroll across Titanic's decks may very well have been visited by one of these scents woven into the cool salt air.

It is likely that same walk down the promenade would also have been accompanied by the rich aroma of tobacco.

Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes were welcomed throughout the vessel, save for a few areas, such as the First-Class Dining Saloon during mealtimes and the corridors.

Smoking was likewise forbidden in the Palm Court on A Deck, a  point of contention that turned the room into a de facto playground on Titanic’s sister Olympic.

But smoking was otherwise permissible in most locations. It was so ubiquitous, in fact, that during a review of the Olympic, White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay advocated for additional cigar-holders to be installed above the urinals in the men's lavatories.

Additionally, the Cafe Parisien on B Deck seemed particularly popular for fashionable young cigarette smokers on board the Titanic.

Crew members were only permitted to smoke while off-duty, although surely this rule was bent to break.

Stewardess Violet Jessop wrote in her memoir that she caught at least one steward defying the rule on the boat deck, in the middle of evacuations.

"A steward stood waiting with his back to the bulkhead, cigarette in mouth and hands in his pockets. It struck me forcibly as the first time I had ever seen a steward stand thus amid a group of distinguished guests."

Excerpt from "Titanic Survivor: The New Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop," written by Violet Jessop and edited by John Maxtone-Graham. 1997.

Officers were assigned their own Smoking Room, and it is reasonable to assume it was frequented.

Fifth Officer Harold Lowe was photographed with a pipe on multiple occasions throughout his career, as was Second Officer Charles Lightoller. First Officer William Murdoch was reportedly a smoker as well.

Cigars, meanwhile, were the proud enjoyment of many an elite gentleman on board, including Captain E.J. Smith. Smith's daughter once recounted that her father was so precious with his cigars that he would insist that other people in the room stay utterly still, so as not to disturb the blue-smoke haze.

On to a less pleasant smell than all the others: the iceberg that sank Titanic. Multiple survivors attested to the rank odor of nearby icebergs on the night of April 14th.

Crewmember Frank Winnold Prentice stated, "You could smell ice; I knew it, because you can smell it… keenness, a keenness in the air. There’s something about ice you can smell," in a filmed interview in 1983.

In his testimony before the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, lookout George Symons also recalled that he could smell ice in the vicinity.

Had you noticed anything to lead you to think you might meet icebergs before you got that message?
- Yes; just a small conversation, I think, about 9 o'clock. My mate turned round from time to time and said, "It is very cold here." I said, "Yes; by the smell of it there is ice about." He asked me why, and I said, "As a Rule you can smell the ice before you get to it."

Perhaps the recollection of Elizabeth Weed Shutes, however, is the most evocative of all.

Elizabeth was restless on the night of April 14th, irked and unnerved by the foul scent pervading her cabin.

"Such a biting cold air poured into my stateroom that I could not sleep, and the air had so strange an odor, as if it came from a clammy cave. I had noticed that same odor in the ice cave on the Eiger glacier."

Citation Courtesy of "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. 2012.

The crash came moments thereafter.


Hyslop, Donald, Alastair Forsyth, and Sheila Jemima. "Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage." Sutton Publishing Limited, 1997.

Behe, George. "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage." The History Press, 2012.

Jessop, Violet. "Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters." Annotated by John Maxtone-Graham. Sheridan House, Inc., 1997.

"Titanic: A Question of Murder," 1983. Youtube URL:

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“The Click of the Familiar Machinery Comes As a Welcome Interruption”: The Print Shop

"The Click of the Familiar Machinery Comes As a Welcome Interruption": Titanic's Print Shop

The RMS Titanic, much like many other ocean liners, had a print shop.

No photos of it are known to exist.

But it was surely a small space packed with machinery and typeface. An article published in the "Printers' Register" in 1905 describes the typical liner's print shop in delightful detail.

How many of all the thousands who have crossed on the great liners have ever been inside the ship's printing-office? It is a picturesque little shop, fitted up much the same as any printing-office on land, with type-cases and printing-press, where the click of the familiar machinery comes as a welcome interruption to the incessant throbbing of the ship's engines... 

The ships' printing-office is usually an inside room and of the size of an ordinary stateroom, with the berths removed. The cases and frames of type in these days of oceans newspapers pretty well fill the little office.

When considering the substantial variety of ephemera that a ship would use, the presence of a printing office was certainly a necessity.

Among the paper goods printed on board an ocean liner were a variety of menus every day, multiple times per day, for hundreds of travelers in each of the passenger classes.

Additionally, the printing office producsd pamphlets on-board programs and special events, stationary, and even waiters' notepads. On Titanic and her older sister Olympic, there would have also been a need for printed tickets to exclusive, paid-access areas such as the Turkish baths.

A contemporary illustration of the "Cool Room" of the Turkish Baths on RMS Olympic, which would have been identical to that on Titanic.


While it might be assumed that all of these materials could have been entirely prepared in advance of a voyage, it would have been detrimental to do so because they were so often subject to change, particularly at sea.

For instance, a course boasted on a pre-printed menu could be ruined when ingredients were unavailable because of anything from spoilage to a delayed supply train and poor weather. This was all the more true for a vessel that had never sailed before; bills of fare may very well have been extemporaneous, or otherwise edited last-minute at a whim.

According to Bob Richardson of the British Printing Society, any color printing would have been completed on shore and otherwise left blank for the printing office on board, who would fill in the text of the item in black ink. The typefaces selected by White Star were commonly used in 1912 and limited in ornament, such as the British "Westminster" typeface by Stephenson Blake, as well as "Grot," more commonly known as "Gothic." The fanciest typeface was arguably Theodore De Vinne's design for passenger stationary, which read "On board R.M.S. Titanic."

Thus, there was plenty to keep a liner's printing office in constant operation. And then, with the advent of the wireless telegraph, passengers vessels would adopt yet another paper item: the newspaper.

In the past year [of 1905] the ship's printing-office has gained a new interest. It has become a newspaper office as well... The installation of the wireless system has given a new occupation to the printer. On many of the great ocean liners, for instance, a newspaper is published every day... It is common for a steamer to be in communication with some other boat each day, and so the possibilities of picking up news from one side of the Atlantic or the other are many. The steward editor is seldom at a loss for some news items from the outside world, at worst not more than three days old...

The newspaper is... about 8 by 4 inches [in size].

Titanic likewise produced its own so-called newspaper, called the "Atlantic Daily Bulletin."

Interestingly, though, it would seem that Titanic did not handle the Bulletin in the usual way as described above. Veteran deep-ocean explorer and Titanic enthusiast Parks Stephenson has indicated that the Atlantic Daily Bulletin would not have fallen under the purview of the printing office, unlike documented procedure on some of Titanic's peer vessels.

According to Stephenson,  Senior Marconi Operator Jack Phillips was responsible for writing down the day's news broadcast during his First Watch. He thereafter transmitted the daily update to the Purser's Office, where it was copied with a typewriter and pinned up in the First-Class Smoking Lounge, a facility exclusively available to men.

The First-Class Smoking Room on Titanic's elder sister, Olympic. Taken by William Rau for Harland & Wolff, 1911. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The exact model of Titanic's printing machinery has not been discovered to date.

Additionally, the location of Titanic's printing office is still debated. There are alternating reports that it existed on either D Deck or E Deck dependent upon the iteration of the ship's deck plans. It is most commonly argued that Titanic's printshop would likely have been located on D Deck, because it was adjacent to the First-Class pantry and in the immediate vicinity of the First-Class restaurants; this arrangement would have benefitted the manufacture of menus.

Along with the ongoing bills of fare that the printshop would be tasked with every day, this location would have been ideal because it placed the printers in the proximity of wealthy customers who could commission them for custom work, such as private dining menus, luggage tags, and personalized calling cards.

In fact, a business card that was acquired on Titanic still exists. It belonged Father Frank Browne during his brief time on board, and it had been given to him by the First-Class Gymnasium's athletic instructor Thomas W. McCawley. Given its minimalist appearance, it is likely to have been printed on board. At the top edge of the plain white card, Frank noted, "Card given me by".

Mr. T. W. McCawley

Physical Educator.



        R.M.S TITANIC,

              WHITE STAR LINE.

© "Father Browne's Titanic Album: A Passenger's Photographs and Personal Memoir," by E.E. O'Donnell SJ, 2011.

Titanic's printing office was tended by 53-year-old Print Steward Abraham Mishellany, a refugee from the modern country of Lebanon. After his family fled the Ottoman regime, he had then emigrated to Egypt before resettling in England, where he married a women named Grace Sarah Holland.

Mishellany was in turn assisted by Ernest Corben of London, who was 27 years old.

Abraham appears to have been a veteran employee who had also worked on the RMS Olympic. He, like many a Print Steward, was considered a special breed of worker.

 The press is worked by hand. The ship's printer is a regular steward and, like them, wears the ship's uniform. He must, besides, have some qualifications which a landsman may never learn. He must be a good sailor. It is not enough that he should never be sick when a menu or a Marconi newspaper edition is to be run off; he must be able to work quickly with his office at an angle of perhaps 45 degrees.

The two men were likely occupied with their duties throughout the voyage.

It is presumed that on the night of April 14, 1912, that the two printer stewards were probably working late. Orders for the next day's breakfast menus were most likely given to Mishellany and Corben in the afternoon or early evening.

There is no eyewitness record that accounts for Abraham or Ernest during the sinking.

Neither of the men survived.

A government printing office circa 1905, from the Harris & Ewing Photography Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Because so many items were printed exclusively on board, there are very few paper artifacts that survived the sinking of the Titanic, most of which are menus.

A First-Class luncheon menu saved by passenger Abraham Lincoln Solomon sold at auction for $88,000 in 2015.

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“Sunlit Hours of Those Spring Days”: Marie Grice Young

"Sunlit Hours of Those Spring Days": Marie Grice Young

Marie Grice Young was born well-connected.

A native of Washington, D.C., both of Marie's parents were so-called "Old Washingtonians" and thus boasted a number of political friendships resulting from their residence in the national capital. They eventually separated.

Marie's father Samuel, once a civil-servant-turned-affluent-mining magnate, was also profoundly gifted in the musical arts.

He was a noted vocalist and celebrated songwriter; he often performed in D.C. social circles, both as a solo act and in an esteemed choral society. Unfortunately, after suffering a fall from a carriage in 1891, Samuel Young's health and character was mortally compromised.

Within a ten-year span, Marie bore witness to her father's deterioration, including alcoholism, a suicide attempt and subsequent commitment to an asylum after he was "declared to be insane by a jury sitting at the city hall" in Washington D.C. In 1901, Samuel succeeded in taking his own life by ingesting laudanum.

Marie was 25 years old at the time.

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., circa 1901. Courtesy of the National Parks Service and the United States Commission of Fine Arts.


Marie appears to have taken after her late father and by 1910, she had become an accomplished musician in her own right.

In her early twenties, she had studied with John Porter Lawrence, an acclaimed pianist who himself has studied at the Leipsig Conservatory. In 1904, she played piano on tour for a musical reading called "Enoch Arden," and she sometimes performed as a soprano vocalist.

Marie's talent brought her to the attention of the most prominent family in Washington, D.C., when she was solicited by the First Lady to act as the piano teacher to three of President Theodore Roosevelt's children.

One day, I received a call from Mrs. Roosevelt asking if I would give daily lessons on the piano to her sons, Archie, then 7, and Quentin, 10. I agreed and they came to my home for their lessons for more than two years. Their sister, Ethel, was also one of my pupils.

As reported in The Evening Recorder, February 12, 1955. Citation courtesy of Encyclopedia Titanica.

By 1907, Marie was cited as the go-to "for information regarding the present observances and management of the [Presidential] household."

Archie & Quentin Roosevelt circa 1902, taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


In 1910, Marie Grice Young was noted in census records as an unmarried piano teacher.

By 1911, the now-36-year-old Marie was found in the constant company of an older widow named Ella Holmes White. They had been introduced in the summer of 1910.

The Washington Herald reported that the two had elected to live together. In October of 1911, the women set off for a European holiday. As evidenced by contemporary reports, the two wintered in Paris and Rome, and spent their time collecting antiques, artwork, and shopping for clothes. They were also spotted touring the French countryside by automobile.

Marie and Ella boarded the Titanic as First-Class passengers on the evening of April 10, 1912, in Cherbourg, France. In their company were Ella's maid Amelia Bessette, as well as her manservant Sante Righini.

While boarding Titanic from the tender ship SS Nomadic, Ella White is reported to have sprained her ankle. She was consequently confined to her C-Deck cabin by one of the ship's physicians.

While Ella was stationary in bed, Marie spent her hours enjoying a good people-watch on Titanic's decks.

In my thoughts I often lie again in my steamer chair, and watch the passing throng on the Titanic's promenade deck. After the usual excitement… the routine of life on deck was established. Two famous men passed many times every day in a vigorous constitutional, one talking always - as rapidly as he walked - the other a good and smiling listener.

Babies and nurses, dear old couples, solitary men, passed sunlit hours of those spring days on deck, while the Titanic swept on to the scene of the disaster; approaching what might not have been so much a sinister fate awaiting her...

Alongside their many trunks--packed as they were with the sartorial rewards of shopping trips in Paris--Ella and Marie had also brought aboard some noisier and infinitely more curious cargo: fancy French poultry.

In recent years, Marie's extended family has speculated that a shared interest in raising chickens was the element that brought their "Auntie Mary" and Ella together in the first place.

As it turns out, upon their meeting in 1910, Marie Grice Young had offered Ella White some advice when the latter spoke of French-bred chickens as a smart investment.

Ella eventually hired the younger woman as a consultant at her summer home, called Briarcliff Lodge, in Westchester County, New York. They became "fast friends," and soon thereafter fell in love.

And so, during their 1911 holiday, the couple purchased a collection of French roosters and hens of elite breeding. They intended to bring the birds home to Briarcliff Lodge.

On board Titanic, these newly adopted fowl were kept on F-Deck, in proximity to the kennels in which the passengers' dogs were also kept. The animals were looked after by Titanic's carpenters, one of whom was a 26-year-old named John Hall Hutchinson.

Throughout the voyage, Marie performed regular check-ins on their exotic pets on F-Deck.

Every day, she visited them in the hold and counted up their eggs to report back to Ella. In doing so, she quickly befriended Hutchinson.

It so happened that I took an unusual interest in some of the men below decks, for I had talked often with the carpenter and the printer, in having extra crates and labels made for the fancy French poultry we were bringing home, and I saw a little of the ship's life, in my daily visits to the gaily crowing roosters, and to the hens, who laid eggs busily, undismayed by the novelty and commotion of their surroundings.

I had seen the cooks before their great cauldrons of porcelain, and the bakers turning out the huge loaves of bread, a hamper of which was later brought on deck, to supply the life boats.

In accepting some gold coins, the ship's carpenter said, "It is such a good luck to receive gold on a first voyage!" Yet he was the first of the Titanic's martyrs, who, in sounding the ship just after the iceberg was struck, sank and was lost in the inward rushing sea that engulfed him.

According to Ella's testimony on the twelfth day of the American Senate Inquiry, she had remarked to Marie on the morning of April 14th that the chill in the weather was peculiar.

Ella stated, "Everybody knew we were in the vicinity of icebergs. Even in our staterooms it was so cold that we could not leave the port hole open. It was terribly cold. I made the remark to Miss Young, on Sunday morning: 'We must be very near icebergs to have such cold weather as this.' It was unusually cold."

Ella went on to describe the iceberg strike.

Senator SMITH.
Were you aroused especially by the impact?

No; not at all. I was just sitting on the bed, just ready to turn the lights out. It did not seem to me that there was any very great impact at all. It was just as though we went over about a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.

Despite the underwhelming description, Ella did not consider the sensation a matter of fleeting curiosity. In fact, she was gravely concerned, and insisted that the entire group leave the cabin to investigate.

Marie, Ella, and Ella's maid Amelia dressed and went up on A Deck. Ella stated that she dressed warmly and had demanded that Marie do the same.

Marie's resulting wardrobe choice was perplexing to say the least: a fur coat over her negligee, after which she took the time to put on a hat and gloves and grab her handbag.

With the assistance of Ella's manservant Sante, the group ushered Ella to the elevator up to A Deck. They then encountered Captain Smith. He warned them about lifebelts, and so they heeded him.

The party made their way to the boat deck, with Sante aiding Ella up the Grand Staircase due to her bound-up foot.

The view of the Grand Staircase from the boat deck on R.M.S. Olympic, Titanic's elder sister, circa 1911. Photo taken by William H. Rau for Harland & Wolff.


Once on the boat deck, the four watched the preparation of the portside lifeboats under the supervision of Second Officer Charles Lightoller.

Ella was at this time in possession of a walking stick with a Bakelite end, which boasted the novelty feature of being electrically lit. And she was quite insistent on utilizing it.

Lightoller found it horribly annoying.

[The] deck lights on, which, though dim, helped considerably with the work; more than could be said of one very good lady who achieved fame by waving an electric light and successfully blinding us as we worked on the boats. It puzzled me until I found she had it installed in the head of her walking stick! I am afraid she was rather disappointed on finding out that her precious light was not a bit appreciated. Arriving in safety on board the Carpathia, she tried to make out that someone had stolen her wretched stick, whereas it had been merely taken from her, in response to my request that someone would throw the damn thing overboard.

Ella, Marie, and Amelia eventually boarded Lifeboat 8, presumably with the ongoing help of Sante.

The ladies would never see him again.

Even as Ella acknowledged the separation of loved ones from each other, she insisted that there absolutely no panic amongst the passengers that she saw.

There was no excitement whatever. Nobody seemed frightened. Nobody was panic-stricken. There was a lot of pathos when husbands and wives kissed each other goodbye, of course.

Watching the sinking of Titanic from Lifeboat 8, the women on board took charge of the tiller when they learned the ineptitude of a number of crewmen on board.

Marie took to rowing an oar alongside the Countess of Rothes.

Intermittently, Marie found herself seasick, which she stated was worsened by the smoking of the stewards. "The men took out cigarettes and lighted them as we were being lowered into the sea," she said. "The man in front of me lighted a pipe and it was so foul-smelling that it actually made me sick."

Marie vomited about a half-dozen times, and that she had to rest at the bottom of the boat for a while to assuage her nausea. That, however, did not stop her from rowing.

Ella, on the other hand, could not row due to her condition--but that same condition did not dissuade her from waving her cane back and forth through the night air because, as she claimed, the lamp in the boat did not work.

Ella lodged further complaints regarding the seamen on board Lifeboat 8, which she expounded upon in her characteristically brusque tone during the American Senate Inquiry.

The American Senate Inquiry in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. New York City, 1912.


This so-named "pathos" may have been a reference to the parting of young newlyweds Victor and Maria Peñasco, or the famed refusal of Isidor and Ida Straus to separate, both of which occurred at the launch of Lifeboat 8.

The Senate Inquiry was just one of many obligations with which Marie and Ella had to contend in the aftermath of the sinking.

Marie Grice Young had somehow found herself the subject of a falsified account regarding the last sighting of one of Titanic's most mourned passengers: Major Archibald Butt, who was a dear friend of President William H. Taft.

Marie is reported to have regaled the media with a dramatic scene in which Archibald Butt approached her to communicate his farewells back in Washington, D.C.

According to the reports in syndicated newspapers, Major Butt spoke kind words to Marie and even wrapped her in a blanket, calmly inquiring if she might share his final farewells to all of his friends back home.

Marie was also reported to have been the very last woman to leave Titanic, despite the fact that Lifeboat 8 left Titanic at approximately 1:00 a.m., over an hour before the ship submerged and before other lifeboats were launched.

President William Howard Taft (left) with Major Archibald butt (center).


The multiple newspaper accounts that promulgated this fabrication eventually were addressed by Marie Grice Young herself in a letter to President Taft.

In said letter, she insisted that a whimsical journalist had concocted the entire account.

Dear Mr President:

I have read an account of the Memorial Service held in Washington recently in honor of Major Archibald Butt, at which service the Secretary of War alluded to a farewell conversation supposed to have taken place between Major Butt and myself. Had such a conversation taken place I should not have delayed one hour in giving you every detail of the last hours of your special Aide & friend.

Although a Washingtonian I did not know Major Butt, having been in deep mourning for several years. The alleged "interview" is entirely an invention, by some officious reporter; who thereby brought much distress to many of Major Butt's near relatives and friends... for when they wrote me of what a comfort the story was to them, I had to tell them it was untrue, as no such deception could be carried through...

With deep regret that I could not be his messenger to you,
Believe me,
Very sincerely yours
(Miss) Marie G. Young

In spite of the trauma they endured, Ella White and Marie Grice Young moved forward together.

Marie was determined to replace the French roosters and hens that she and Ella had lost in the sinking, so she returned to France to hand-select them once again.

This time, however, Marie traveled alone. And at the start of this voyage, she visited with her Grice cousins in Nottingham, England, who set aside a permanent room for her.

According to her living family, it was during this trip that Marie decided to abandon some artifacts of particularly painful memories.

Before departing Nottingham for France, Marie discarded the fur coat, hat, gloves, and purse that had accompanied her on the night of Titanic's sinking.

Her cousins hung the coat in a closet and boxed up the rest, where they remain untouched and unnoticed for decades thereafter.

Granting that the Titanic was a triumph of construction and appointments, even she could not trespass upon a law of nature, and survive.

Helplessly that beautiful and gallant ship struggled to escape from the hand of God, but was only an atom in the Hold of inexorable justice.

Majestically she sailed; but bowed, broken and crouching, she sank slowly beneath the conquering ocean; a hidden memorial shaft to the unburied dead she carried with her, and to the incredible wickedness of man, until the coming of the day when "there shall be no more sea."

The forgotten box of Marie Grice Young's Titanic effects was accidentally thrown away when the Grice family home was sold.

In 2019, Ella White's infamous cane sold at auction for over $60,000.

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“We Saw Everything Quite Distinctly”: Titanic & the SS City of New York

"We Saw Everything Quite Distinctly": Titanic & the SS City of New York

According to the records of the National Meteorological Library & Archive of the United Kingdom, Titanic's maiden voyage was more or less as lovely a spring day as one could behold. "Southampton had a dry night with clear spells," the reports reads, and "the morning dawned fine with some good spells of sunshine... Despite the sunshine it was a chilly day with a cool north-westerly wind."

And thus, Titanic set sail at about 12:05 p.m.

Second-Class passenger Lawrence Beesley described the scene as Titanic crept away from the dock.

Soon after noon the whistles blew for friends to go ashore, the gangways were withdrawn, and the Titanic moved slowly down the dock, to the accompaniment of last messages and shouted farewells of those on the quay. There was no cheering or hooting of steamers' whistles from the fleet of ships that lined the dock, as might seem probable on the occasion of the largest vessel in the world putting to sea on her maiden voyage; the whole scene was quiet and rather ordinary, with little of the picturesque and interesting ceremonial which imagination paints as usual in such circumstances.

Excerpt from "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic" by Lawrence Beesley, published in 1912.

Despite the lackluster start, those crowds watching on the quay were no less likely to marvel at Titanic's magnitude, especially compared to other vessels docked in her vicinity.

Having looked down on the world from the Titanic's boat deck, I went on the quay and looked up at the projecting heads of the passengers. It was like standing by the wall of St. Paul's Cathedral and craning your neck to get a glimpse of the Apostles on the roof...

For the first yards a caterpillar might have raced the Titanic. It was difficult to imagine such a tremendous object moving, so slowly. I walked along to the end of the deep water dock and saw her come by at a slow pace within a stone's throw of the quay. Her propellers churned the green sea up to liquid grey mud.

And it was shortly thereafter that Titanic nearly collided with the SS City of New York.

As Titanic left her berth, her size and weight caused water displacement, resulting in significant swells.

Nearby, both the RMS Oceanic and the SS City of New York were moored and lashed together alongside the dock. Both vessels had been "laid up" due to the coal strike that had immobilized so many of Titanic's peers.

The SS City of New York on or about August 9, 1914, carrying passengers fleeing the Great War. From the George Grantham Bain collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Titanic passed by both ships, which caused an enormous bulge of water that lifted the Oceanic and New York to a height, before dropping them just as suddenly.

The Oceanic recovered from the jostle, but the New York did not fare so well. Its hawsers--otherwise known as the wrist-thick, steel mooring cables that bound her to the dock--snapped and flew backward.

The sound of the breaking hawsers, people said, was like the cracking of a gun.

 As the Titanic moved majestically down the dock, the crowd of friends keeping pace with us along the quay, we came together level with the steamer New York lying moored to the side of the dock along with the Oceanic, the crowd waving "good-byes" to those on board as well as they could for the intervening bulk of the two ships. But as the bows of our ship came about level with those of the New York, there came a series of reports like those of a revolver, and on the quay side of the New York snaky coils of thick rope flung themselves high in the air and fell backwards among the crowd, which retreated in alarm to escape the flying ropes. We hoped that no one was struck by the ropes, but a sailor next to me was certain he saw a woman carried away to receive attention. 

Excerpt from "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic" by Lawrence Beesley, published in 1912.

Unmanned and violently unmoored, the SS City of New York began drifting stern-side directly toward Titanic.

Captain Smith immediately ordered the engines "full astern", and Titanic's starboard anchor was partially lowered in anticipation of a collision. One of the tugboats nearby, called Vulcan, rushed forward and, with deft maneuvering, brought the New York under tow.

Happily the prompt action of the men in command and the quick use of a couple of steam tugs prevented a collision, and the mighty Titanic at last steamed away like a proud queen of the sea, an hour late but not at all worried.

Titanic and New York avoided the crash by mere feet.

Ultimately, The New York was urged back to dock by a coterie of tugboats; Titanic, delayed by an hour but otherwise unbothered, "quietly glided, in brilliant sunshine" further and away.

Photo taken by the Odell family from the deck of the Titanic, during its near-collision with the SS City of New York, April 10, 1912.


Perhaps those who had the clearest view and grandest scope of the near-disaster were two assistant electricians named Albert Ervine and Alfred Middleton, both of whom had managed to mount Titanic's aft and fourth funnel. This is where they found themselves for the duration of the calamity.

Albert Ervine later wrote the following in a letter posted back home to his mother Helen.

As soon as the Titanic began to move out of the dock, the suction caused the Oceanic, which was alongside her berth, to swing outwards, while another liner broke loose altogether and bumped into the Oceanic. The gangway of the Oceanic simply dissolved.

Middleton and myself were on top of the after funnel, so we saw everything quite distinctly. I thought there was going to be a proper smash up owing to the high wind; but I don't think anyone was hurt.

Albert George Ervine was born in Belfast the summer of 1893. He was named after his father, and called "Bertie" by his family.

Young Albert Ervine was educated at the Belfast Royal Academy, thereafter studying at Methodist College and the Municipal Technical Institute. His apprenticeship then commenced at Coombe, Barber & Coombe, before he moved on to Harland & Woolf, where he studied so-called "marine electronics."

By 1911, the census reflects Albert Ervine as an unwed electrician.

Electrical plant of the Titanic's elder sister RMS Olympic. Taken in May of 1911 by Robert John Welch for Harland & Wolff.


Bertie Ervine is recorded as having provided electrical work on the RMS Titanic during its construction. He entered into the employ of the White Star Line after returning from the maiden voyage of another vessel: the SS Maloja, which had likewise been constructed by Harland & Wolff.

It is reported that Bertie Ervine had actively petitioned the White Star Line, hoping to be assigned to Titanic. And so, on April 2, 1912, Bertie Ervine walked out of the Belfast house that he shared with his parents and siblings, and set off to the docks.

Titanic docked in Southampton on April 10, 1912.


Somewhere along his way that day, or perhaps once he arrived, Bertie linked up with fellow assistant electrician Alfred Middleton.

The two boys had been good friends for some time, presumably due to their parents belonging to the same religious community. Having been hired as crew for Titanic's "delivery trip" to Southampton, England, they would depart immediately following the successful completion of her sea trials.

Titanic came to rest at Southampton shortly after midnight on April 4th. And on April 6th, Bertie and Alfred signed on to Titanic once again, for the vessel's maiden voyage.

In the letter to his mother, Bertie outlined his work schedule as "on duty morning and evening from 8 to 12; that is four hours work and eight hours off." Therein, Bertie also described a drill, or "full dress rehearsal of an emergency" that his group had conducted that morning, April 11th.

They had, he wrote, practiced the functionality of the watertight doors.

(Have just been away attending the alarm bell.)

This morning we had a full dress rehearsal of an emergency. The alarm bells all rang for ten seconds, then about 50 doors, all steel, gradually slid down into their places, so that water could not escape from any one section into the next.

So you see it would be impossible for the ship to be sunk in collision with another...

Three days later, on the night of April 14th, Titanic struck the iceberg.

And though she strained and flooded and foundered, her electricity did not fail until her final moments.

Assistant electrician Bertie Ervine was never recorded as having been sighted on deck at any point during the sinking. And for almost two hours, from 11:40 p.m. until 2 a.m.--approximately 20 minutes before Titanic fell beneath the waves--her lights somehow remained on, and her wireless radio remained operational.

Ervine is, therefore, presumed to have remained at his post deep within the ship, electing to sacrifice his safety and his life to make sure that Titanic's power would not go out.

What scenes were enacted to immortalize forever the engineers who kept the ship lighted, and afloat, giving a last chance of escape to passengers and even officers? How can we ever realize what it meant to find courage to reject the thought of beloved dependents on shore, and to face death in stoke-hold and engine room?

Bertie Ervine was the youngest member of Titanic's engineering crew. His remains were not recovered.

He was 18 years old.

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“My! I Wish I Could Go Out There Sometimes!”: Titanic’s Elevators

"My! I Wish I Could Go Out There Sometimes!": Titanic's Elevators

The Titanic was the last word in luxury, equipped with elite amenities and thoughtful details. And among its many novel components, a particular technology often goes unacknowledged: the elevators.

All in all, they were pretty nifty contraptions and certainly enjoyed by the passengers. Lawrence Beesley mused upon as much in his account, which was published only two months after the sinking of Titanic.

Perhaps nothing gave one a greater impression of the size of the ship than to take the lift from the top and drop slowly down past the different floors, discharging and taking in passengers just as in a large hotel.

© "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic," by Lawrence Beesley. 1912.

Titanic was neither the first nor the only passenger vessel to include this particular convenience. But it was among the few.

They were designed, of course, to surpass all others in the simple feat of exceptional customer experience. In fact, the White Star Line boasted the following in their promotional materials while expressing lavish awe for the First-Class Grand Staircase.

Looking over the balustrade, we see the stairs descending to many floors below, and on turning aside we find we may be spared the labor of mounting or descending stairs by entering one of the smoothly-gliding elevators which best us quickly to any other of the numerous floors of the ship we may wish to visit.

Titanic was outfitted with four passenger elevators: three available to First-Class passengers, and the remaining one for those in Second Class. In conjunction, the ship was staffed with a total of four Lift Attendants, one responsible for each passenger elevator. 

The position of List Attendant was categorized as Victualling Crew. The Victualling Department was made up of 421 people tasked with all manners of service provided to those on board the ship, from foodstuffs to linens to barber services to bathroom cleaning. And of course, elevator services.

Titanic’s elevators, as well as those installed on her elder sister Olympic, were designed and installed by R. Waygood Co., an established and international firm that was headquartered in London. The Otis Elevator Company has claim to those bragging rights today, however, owing to the fact that it merged with R. Waygood in 1914.

The lifts were electric in operation, but not in any modern sense of the word. There were no buttons to be pushed, and no door that automatically closed. They were, in essence, manual—powered by electricity but controlled by hand. The Lift Attendant was responsible for controling a lever which decided the direction of the lift. It took a bit of finesse to ensure a jostle-free ride from start to end, and skill to operate the lift so that it stopped at the desired deck with its gate perfectly aligned to the floor onto which the passengers would alight.

The ship’s four steam-powered engines generated thousands of amps of 100-watt electricity, which catered not only to the elevators, but also to equipment on the Bridge, deck cranes, loudspeakers, kitchen equipment, fans, and heaters—and, of course, the approximately 10,000 incandescent lightbulbs in use on board.

It is reported that each elevator’s capacity was 10 people at a time, including the Lift Attendant therein.

The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic from the Boat Deck, circa 1911. Taken by William H. Rau. The First-Class Elevators were immediately in front of the Grand Staircase on A Deck.


The three First-Class lifts were tucked into a taut and tidy row just forward of the famed Grand Staircase on A Deck. Their course ran all the way down to E Deck. A curious design choice, considering the athletic amenities exclusively available to First-Class passengers occupied lower decks than the lifts could achieve. By terminating on E Deck, First-Class passengers found themselves one deck above the Swimming Bath and adjacent Turkish Baths of F Deck, and two decks too soon to access the Squash Court on G Deck. Lift passengers wishing to access those facilities would need to take leave of the elevators at the last available floor, and then proceed to take the stairs.

These gilded lifts, unlike the walled-off box elevators of today, were open-faced cages. They were designed in the Empire style, their frames trimmed with carved wood and accented ornate wrought-iron gates. They were outfitted with individual light fixtures and inviting sofas for passengers to make use of on their arduous vertical journeys.

The First-Class lifts were staffed by William Carney, who was the oldest of the Lift Attendants at 31 years old, as well as Frederick Blades and Alfred John Moffett King, who were 17 and 18, respectively.

Second-Class Entrance on RMS Olympic. The elevator sign is visible. Taken by Bedford Lemere & Co, 1911.


The sole Second-Class elevator could be found aft, alongside the main staircase; it ran from Boat Deck to F Deck. It skipped A Deck entirely, however, because A Deck was exclusively accessible to First-Class passengers. This elevator was operated by Reginald Pacey, who was 17.

Reginald had never been employed on a ship before.

Lawrence Beesley, one of the very few Second-Class men to survive the disaster, wrote the following of young Mr. Pacey in his recollections.

He was quite young,—not more than sixteen, I think,—a bright-eyed, handsome boy, with a love for the sea and the games on deck and the view over the ocean—and he did not get any of them. One day, as he put me out of his lift and saw through the vestibule windows a game of deck quoits in progress, he said, in a wistful tone, "My! I wish I could go out there sometimes!" I wished he could, too, and made a jesting offer to take charge of his lift for an hour while he went out to watch the game; but he smilingly shook his head and dropped down in answer to an imperative ring from below.

Lawrence also wrote that he didn’t believe Reginald was on duty with his lift on the night of the disaster, but he was sure that had the boy been on duty, he would have offered his passengers nothing but a kind smile, even as he knew the ship was sinking. 

“I wonder where the lift-boy was that night,” Lawrence Beesley wrote. “I would have been glad to find him in our boat, or on the Carpathia when we took count of the saved.”

 Reginald Pacey, along with the three Lift Attendants Carney, Blades, and King, all were killed in the sinking of Titanic.

While the bodies of William Carney and Alfred John Moffett King were identified during the Mackay-Bennett’s recovery efforts, both Reginald Percy and Frederick Blades were lost.

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“Locker 14, F Deck”: Sidney Sedunary

"Locker 14, F Deck": Sidney Sedunary

Samuel “Sidney” Sedunary signed onto Titanic on April 4, 1912. He hailed from Berkshire, England, and was the eldest of 7 children.

Sidney was assigned as a Second Steward in Third Class. He had only recently been married to his sweetheart, Madge Tizzard, in late 1911. He was 25 years old; she, 24.

And by the time he boarded Titanic, Madge was pregnant.

Even though he was comparatively young at the time of his assignment, but he’d already had 8 years of experience at sea. In April of 1904, at just age 17, Sidney joined the Royal Navy. His record indicates that he was acknowledged for excellent conduct; his appearance is also noted with brown hair, brown eyes, and a tan complexion. 

After 1908, Sidney moved to the private sector, serving on the Adriatic, and then on Titanic’s elder, and practically identical, sister, the RMS Olympic.

A promotional postcard distributed by the White Star Line to advertise the quality of Third-Class accommodations in the Olympic class.


As the Second Steward in Third Class, Sidney was required to support the Chief Steward, a man named James W. Kieran. 

Most stewards were roomed en masse on F Deck. But Sidney was gifted with a E-Deck cabin shared with only one other crew member: Ludwig Muller, the sole translator hired for the entirety of Third-Class passengers.

A Third-Class passenger cabin on the RMS Olympic, circa 1911 or 1912.


There is comparatively little information regarding the circumstances of Third Class on the night of the sinking. Much of what is known is ascribed to the testimony of John Hart, one of the eight surviving Third-Class Stewards.

Third-Class evacuation during the sinking was inevitable bedlam. With multiple languages and a single ship translator, confusion was rampant. But it wasn’t just that. Many passengers, even in Third Class, were adamant that it was safer to stay on the ship. John Hart testified that many of the 59 people in his charge “refused to put [lifebelts] on… they said they saw no occasion for putting them on; they did not believe the ship was hurt in any way.” 

John Hart continued.

Some of them went to the boat deck, and found it rather cold, and saw the boats being lowered away, and thought themselves more secure on the ship, and consequently returned to their cabin… I heard two or three say they preferred to remain on the ship than be tossed about on the water like a cockle shell.

During the British Board of Trade Inquiry cited above, John Hart testified to witnessing Sidney working with his superior mid-sinking. (Please do note that Sidney's surname is transcribed phonetically as "Sedginary").

I waited about there with my own people trying to show them that the vessel was not hurt to any extent to my own knowledge, and waited for the chief third class steward, or some other Officer, or somebody in authority to come down and give further orders. Mr. Kieran [id est, the Chief Steward] came back. He had been to sections S, and Q, and R to see that those people also were provided with lifebelts… he had also his assistant with him, one by name, Sedginary. [Sidney Sedunary.]

Immediately thereafter, when asked again, Hart repeated that Sidney had been assisting James Kiernan in distributing lifebelts.

What about the assistant; you say his assistant was with him?

- Yes.

John Hart estimated that he received his initial orders to get lifeboats on his passengers after “three parts of hour” after the iceberg strike at 11:40pm, so he believed it was about 12:30pm. He came across Sidney and Chief Steward James Kieran sometime after that, after they had been to Section S, Q, and R, which were toward the stern and split between three decks: S on G Deck, R on F Deck, Q on E Deck.

G Deck had started to flood at 11:55pm. The forward section F Deck saw water by 12:05am; forward E Deck, around 12:10am, along with water traveling down Scotland Road—the well-known but rarely-named ship-long hallway.

The Chief Steward had to instruct all the other Third-Class stewards throughout the ship. While those stewards receiving instruction were ferrying people in groups up to boat deck—John Hart testified to having taken two or three trips up—the Chief Steward and his assistant were completely embroiled in managing directions on G, F, and E Decks.

The Third-Class General Room, as depicted in a promotional illustration by the White Star Line to advertise Third-Class accommodations in the Olympic class.


Inevitably, since Sidney was in the company of James Kieran or otherwise transmitting his orders to lower Stewards, he presumably moved between the forward (bow) and aft (stern) sections on E, F, and G Decks—which were already flooding to variable degrees.

Segregated in the depths of the ship and at points likely wading through frigid seawater as he acted as Kieran’s right-hand man, Sidney had to have known how frail his chances of survival truly were.

But even as he watched others—colleagues and passengers—move to the upper decks and back again, Sidney was dedicated in his duties as the ship foundered. 

As far as we can deduce from the evidence, he spent the majority of the sinking down below, unlocking cupboards and distributing lifebelts instead of seeking a lifeboat.

A Third-Class Stairwell on C-Deck on the RMS Olympic, circa 1911. Courtesy of Bedford Lemere & Co.


Sidney Sedunary likely did get up to boat deck. Only once it was too late.

And after the exhaustion and adrenaline of the evacuation, he could not survive the cold.

His corpse was the 178th recovered by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett, and was noted thusly.


CLOTHING - Blue serge suit; black boots and socks; uniform coat and waistcoat, with buttons.

TATTOO ON RIGHT ARM - Anchor and rose.

EFFECTS - Gold ring; knife; nickel watch; pawn ticket; pipe; ship's keys; 20s.; $1.40; 8 francs 50.


Sidney Sedunary was buried at sea.

White Star sent Madge a death notice that was cursory at best.


With that, they returned his effects to his 24-year-old widow: some change, Sidney’s broken pocket watch, which had frozen shortly after he entered the water and before Titanic went under—and a key with a metal tag that read “Locker 14, F"D"k.”

So this key that had been taken from Sidney’s body and remitted to Madge Sedunary was more than a simple key: it was a tribute to his unsung and steadfast courage on the last night of his life.

Madge gave birth to Sidney’s son and only child at the end of 1912. He was named after his late father. And in 1921, 9 years after Sidney’s death, Madge remarried—to his younger brother Arthur. They  had a son 5 years later, in 1926.

Sid Sedunary, Jr., died in 2010, at the age of 97. He was the last known surviving Titanic orphan.

6 years following Sidney Jr.’s death, the key that had been removed from his father’s body was sold at auction for £85,000.

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“He Kept Bravely On, With Nothing to Guide Him”: David Blair, Titanic’s Lost Officer

"He Kept Bravely On, With Nothing to Guide Him": David Blair, Titanic's Lost Officer

In the course of his civil and military service to the Crown, David Blair was awarded a King’s Gallantry Medal, a British Empire Medal, a Royal Navy Reserve Decoration, the French Cross of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and the Officer of the Order of the British Empire Award, bestowed upon him by King George V and signed by Prince Edward.

And yet, David Blair is only remembered as That Guy Who Took That Important Key.

That Guy Who Forgot the Binoculars.

The Man Who Sank Titanic.

And that, dear reader, is horse excrement.

David Blair had originally been assigned as Second Officer on Titanic, and until April 4, that was the circumstance under which the crew operated. This arrangement was in place from the start, and was in operation during Titanic’s sea trials on April 2, 1912.

RMS Titanic docked in Belfast. It is believed that one of the figures standing on the bow is then-Second Officer David Blair.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (Copyright expiration, re: in excess of 70 years after author's death)

The assignments of Titanic’s top officer ranks were as follows:

And yet, whether by White Star’s will or at the behest of Captain Smith himself, Henry Wilde was suddenly lined up to take over as Titanic’s Chief Officer. It’s generally understood that the reasoning was because Mr. Wilde was already Chief on Titanic’s elder sister, Olympic. Since it was temporarily berthed, it seemed like Wilde’s experience could be better used on Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Interestingly, Henry Wilde, although aware of the so-called reshuffle as early as March 30, did not receive a proper telegram until April 9, 5 days after Blair’s notice of reassignment.

Charles Lightoller, who was David’s mate, addressed it in his writings, which were published in 1935.

The ruling lights of the White Star Line thought it would be a good plan to send the Chief Officer of the Olympic [Henry Wilde], just for the one voyage, as Chief Officer of the Titanic, to help, with his experience of her sister ship. This doubtful policy threw both [William] Murdoch and me out of our stride; and, apart from the disappointment of having to step back in our rank, caused quite a little confusion Murdoch from Chief, took over my duties as First I stepped back on Blair's toes, as Second, and picked up the many threads of his job, whilst he - luckily for him as it turned out - was left behind.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935. As cited (in part) in "Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage", by High Brewster, 2012.

So Murdoch and Lightoller were each demoted, and David was pushed off the roster entirely.

He wrote a postcard home to his daughter on April 4, 1912, expressing his disappointment at the decision.

“4th, Southampton

Arrived on 'Titanic' from Belfast today. Am afraid I shall have to step out to make room for [the] Chief Officer of the Olympic who was going in command but so many ships laid up he will have to wait. Hope eventually to get back to this ship...
Been home all day and down on board tonight on watch.
This is a magnificent ship, I feel very disappointed I am not to make the first voyage.”

The word “very” was underlined. 

It would seem that David stuck around Southampton to witness Titanic’s departure. It has since been confirmed by facial construction experts and David’s family that the gentleman in black walking along the dock is, in fact, David Blair.

Knowing that, one can’t help but see dejection in his stance.

RMS Titanic docked in Southampton. The man in black walking toward the camera has been identified as Former Second Officer David Blair.


But many people seem to believe that David Blair’s removal from the crew had disastrous consequences. Because when David disembarked, he accidentally took something that should have remained on board.

It was a tiny iron key, with an oval-shaped brass tag that read “Crow’s Nest Telephone Key.”

In the locker opened by that key were David Blair’s looking glasses. And it is speculated that, because the key that David Blair took was of course missing from the ship, that Titanic’s lookouts were without binoculars.

To spot things like icebergs in the distance.

The speculation about the impact of the lost binoculars is not novel—in fact, began in the Senate Inquiry immediately after the disaster. Lookout George Hogg attested to binoculars being on board during Second Officer Blair’s tenure, but that they became unavailable for use before leaving Southampton.

17494. Do you remember when the "Titanic" was leaving Belfast - you signed on the "Titanic" as look-out man, we know - were a pair of glasses given you?

- Yes.

17495. For the crow's-nest?

- Yes.

17496. Who gave them to you, do you remember?

- Mr. Blair, the acting Second Officer then.

17501. When you left the ship at Southampton, what did you do with those glasses?

- Mr. Blair was in the crow's-nest and gave me his glasses, and told me to lock them up in his cabin and to return him the keys.

17503. As far as you were concerned, the glasses, you were told, were to be locked up in the cabin of the second Officer?

- I locked them up.

17504. And they were locked up. When the ship left Queenstown were there any glasses in the crow's-nest?

- There were none when we left Southampton.

George went on to testify that newly appointed Second Officer Lightoller seemed none too bothered by their absence.

17507. Did you ask for them at all after you left Queenstown?

- After I left Queenstown.

17508. You personally asked for them?

- I personally asked.

17509. Whom did you ask?

- Mr. Lightoller.

17510. Will you tell us what you said to him, quite shortly, about it?

- I said, "Where is our look-out glasses, Sir?" He made some reply, I did not exactly catch it. "Get them later," or something like that.

17511. At any rate, you did not get any?

- I did not get any.

But, despite the sensationalism regarding David Blair’s supposedly fatal moment of forgetfulness, Lightoller’s response to Hogg was neither damning nor surprising. Lightoller would not be troubled by the lack of binoculars because he had his own pair on board with him.

Moreover, the White Star Line was anecdotally the only line of vessels to even provide binoculars to lookouts, as it was unnecessary for spotting endangering objects and was therefore completely against industry practice. And George Hogg’s testimony immediately following, as well as those of his colleagues, attest to as much. Notable captains experienced in disaster, such as Captain Walter Lord of the SS Californian and Ernest Shackleton, were of the same opinion.

17513. Have you had experience of glasses; have you used them much?

- Never before; only in the White Star Line.

17514. But had you used them before you were on this voyage?

- On another ship.

17515. Of the White Star Line?

- In the "Adriatic."

17516. You had never had them in any ship you have been on except in the "Adriatic," which was another ship of the White Star Line you had sailed in?

- No other ship except the White Star.

17517. Did you find them of use?

- Well, I believe in my own eyesight.


17522. What it comes to, if I understand that, is you pick it up with your eyesight, and then if you want to see as well as you can what it is you would use the glasses?

- That is what they are handy for, Sir.

17523. But not for picking up things, you mean?

- No, I pick up things with my own eyesight.

And it was understood that George Hogg’s testimony was accurate—binoculars were never intended to spot distant objects. Just to ascertain details.

Additionally, Senator Smith, who conducted the American Inquiry, was in no way familiar with this fact because he was not a mariner in the slightest—a fact that deeply vexed multiple surviving officers who he interrogated, including Second Officer Lightoller and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe.

So, when contemplated within the context of contemporary maritime practice, David Blair’s mistake resulted in nothing more than a perplexity.

Summarily: David Blair did not “doom” Titanic at all.

The RMS Majestic (left) and RMS Olympic, docked in Southampton.


In July of 1912, aboard the RMS Majestic, David was reunited with his friend and Titanic colleague, Charles Lightoller. In a repetition of Titanic’s original assignments, Lightoller was First Officer; Blair, Second.

In 1913, following a stint on the Teutonic during which David had been promoted to First Officer, he returned to the Majestic with his newly acquired superior rank, which he maintained for four months.

But fate was determined to intervene on behalf of The Man Who Doomed Titanic.

On the morning of May 6, 1913, a trimmer (id est, a fireman) chose to attempt suicide by jumping overboard. He was only 27 years old.

David was laying down in his cabin when he heard the cries of alarm. He hastily dressed in his uniform and ran up on deck.

As the fog lifted the officer saw Keoun [the man who jumped ship], apparently very weak, bobbing up and down on the swell, and without a moment's hesitation he dived from the rail of the promenade deck into the water.

David Blair, without a thought as to his own person, swan-dove 40 feet down into 44-degree water, his sight obscured by ocean fog.

According to the New York Tribune's report, the fireman was crazed with heat and recently bereaved. "Keoun lost his wife a month ago, and brooded over her death.  Worry, augmented by the heat of the fire room, affected his mind temporarily, and on Tuesday he ran up to the main deck and jumped."


Passengers Cheer David Blair, Who Risked Life in Fog to Save Fireman
Women Weep as Gallant Sailor and Man for Whom He Jumped Are Helped Over Side


Everybody on board except Blair himself, wanted to tell about the rescue yesterday, and  Captain Kelk said he felt mighty proud of his chief officer.


Mr. Blair, who had been roused from sleep by the cry of "Man overboard!" pulled his trousers over his pajamas and grasping his binoculars rushed forward to a place on the promenade deck just under the bridge.  He never took his eyes from the sea until he shouted to the skipper that he saw the helpless fireman.

The passengers said Blair made a perfect dive.  When he came to the surface he looked to the bridge, and seeing Kelk pointing in the direction of the fireman, got his bearings and struck out for the man he could not then see.

Once he got a glimpse of the unconscious Keoun as the  fireman was tossed up on a wave, and from that tie until he himself was rescued Blair saw nothing but sea and mist.

Thought of Fireman First

He kept bravely on, with nothing to guide him, until the lifeboat came by in search of the fireman.  Those in the boat called to Blair to climb in, but he shouted: "I'm all right.  Get that fireman first.  He should be somewhere about here."

David was celebrated as a hero for this act. But the accolades were short-lived.

On September 8, 1914, on board the RMS Oceanic—and acting as Second Officer alongside First Officer Lightoller once again—David was acting as navigator as the monstrous liner crept in between mainland Scotland the Faroe Islands.

And she ran aground on a reef renowned for its treachery, called the Shaalds of Foula. Fortunately, all souls were saved and the Oceanic was left to her fate.

RMS Oceanic docked in New York, circa 1903. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


On September 29, a gale turned Oceanic over to the sea. Once visible from shore, local islanders awoke to discover that she had utterly vanished.

David Blair shouldered the blame at the subsequent court martial. Lightoller, however, disagreed entirely with this.

The Oceanic was really far too big for that patrol and in consequence it was not long before she crashed on to one of the many outlying reefs and was lost. The fog was as thick as the proverbial hedge when she ripped up on the rocks; and in all fairness one could not lay the blame on the navigator—my old shipmate of many years, Davy Blair—trying as he was to work that great vessel amongst islands and mostly unknown currents.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935.

But Lightoller had a bit of frivolity planned for them both, while his dear, unlucky friend was in town for the court martial: they were to patrol the coastline disguised as fishermen for the Royal Navy.

Davy Blair, my old Oceanic pal, and I volunteered for a job that we had got wind of in the Flag Lieutenant’s office. The main qualification for the men who were to get it, we were told, was that they should be “Hard Cases.” Well, Davy and I had both done the Western Ocean, and knew it in its worst moods these many years… We were accepted… A visit down sailor town soon completed the outfit, blue jersey, smock, rough serge pants, heavy weather cap, and seaboots, making us the imitation of a perfect fisherman.

© "Titanic and Others Ships," by Charles H. Lightoller, 1935.

David Blair’s subsequent Naval service during the First World War garnered him a number of the afore-stated accolades from the British and French governments. In 1918, he was promoted by the Crown to Lietenant Commander.

In 1923, David was employed as the Commanding Officer on the schooner St. George, leading an immense scientific expedition on a Pacific tour, including the Isthmus of Panama and many of the islands, including the Galapagos.

The steam yacht St. George, docked in Sydney Harbor, Australia, circa 1982. Courtesy of the Australian national Maritime Museum, from the William Hall Collection.


David Blair passed away at 80 years old on January 10, 1955. 

Do note that, despite occasional false reports, that David Blair was NOT killed in action in 1917 in a U-Boat encounter during  the First World War. This is nothing but irresponsible and lazy reporting. The lost soldier in question was David Blair Chalmers, an Assistant Steward in the Mercantile Marines, aged 26, from Glasgow, Scotland.

In 2007, the infamous key to the crow’s nest sold at auction for £90,000.


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